By Hal Horowitz
Avi Kaplan's debut full-length introduces a compelling, convincing and emotional singer whose mellifluous baritone is as gripping as any instrument.
Some singers are so authentic they make even the most clichéd topics connect with the power of Moses delivering the tablets from Mount Sinai. Think Bono, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams among many others. Now, add Avi Kaplan to that list.
While the ex-Pentatonix member doesn’t have the catalog to be considered in that rarified company at this time, his 2021 EP and this follow-up debut full-length introduce a compelling, convincing and emotional singer whose mellifluous baritone is as gripping as any instrument. With its widescreen melodies and poetically introspective, liberating lyrics, Floating on a Dream makes for a stunning set that reaches out with dynamic, yet often surprisingly subtle authority.
Credit also goes to producer Shooter Jennings who lays down the sonic tarmac for Kaplan’s resounding vocals to rise above. From the simmering acoustic folk of ‘On My Way’, Kaplan dedicating a verse to each of his family members who he misses whilst on the road, to the dreamy, gospel inspired ‘Try to Get It Right’, he frames this material with a flawless balance of drama and delicacy.
There’s also room for some pop influence in the Scott Walker infused ‘I Can’t Lie’. Here the tempo raises to a low-key gallop and features a melody so catchy it’s no wonder this was chosen as a pre-release single.
But generally, Kaplan sticks to a menu of poignant ballads where his vocals are most effective, especially combined with concepts of salvation expressed in ‘All Is Well’. Joy Williams joins the track as Kaplan’s duet partner to reflect on finding a righteous path: “Now I’ve landed in the light / And my eyes can finally see / The darkness in my mind / Was the path to set my spirit free”. It’s iffy poetry, but sung by Kaplan, those words resonate with redeeming tenderness.
A similar thought informs ‘When I’m a Fool’, where acoustic guitar and a murmuring intro give way to thudding handclaps, as the percussive rhythms kick in and Kaplan double tracks his vocals singing, “And I know I wasn’t right / Don’t be mistaken / I’ll tell the truth when I’m a fool”.
Similarly, the multiple vocal overdubs on the closing ‘My Queen’ has Kaplan harmonizing with himself to riveting results, his higher register vocals emulating Art Garfunkel at his most heartwarming. Chilling, goose bump raising stuff.
If this sounds heavy, well, it is. What it’s not is heavy-handed. Both Kaplan and Jennings find stability between dark and light, giving this material room to breathe, even as the singer’s often soaring voice envelopes the listener like layers of deep fog.
As its name and imploring title track implies, there truly is a sense of ‘Floating on a Dream’ throughout this unforgettable introduction to an artist whose initial offering will be tough to better.
Floating on a Dream is out via Fantasy on Friday 20th May. You can purchase the record from Holler's selected partners below: